Seeds of Empathy
Seeds of Empathy is designed for early childhood settings to foster social and emotional competence and early literacy skills and attitudes in children three to five years old while providing professional development for their educators. (On this website, we refer to early childhood settings as “centres”.)
We teach a series of themes, each on a three-week cycle. During the first and second weeks of each cycle, Literacy Coaches (specially-trained staff members from the centre) read and discuss books with small groups of children. In the third week, a Family Guide (another specially-trained staff member) hosts a Family Visit, where a baby (two to four months old at the beginning of the course) and his/her parent(s) visit the children in the centre for half an hour. The Family Guide encourages the children to observe the baby’s development, to label the baby’s feelings, and to talk about their own feelings and those of others.
At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who visit the centre every three weeks over the program year. A trained Family Guide coaches children to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a lever, which the Family Guide uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others. This “emotional literacy” taught in the program lays the foundation for safer and more caring centres, where children are the “Changers”. They are more competent in understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others (empathy), and are therefore less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other unkind acts.
In Seeds of Empathy, we use stories to help children explore their own feelings and take the perspective of others. Attitudes to reading are formed early through trusting relationships, which is what makes early childhood educators powerful role models. In Seeds of Empathy, at least two trained Literacy Coaches facilitate these Literacy Circles, which are supported by curriculum and two books per theme. Through the curriculum the books and Family Visits are connected by theme.
In addition to the initial three days of training, Seeds of Empathy offers a series of professional development workshops for centre staff. These workshops start the year after the staff have taken the Seeds of Empathy initial training.
Building on the power of the relationship the early childhood educator has with the children enriches the understanding of how to use this vehicle for learning in a joyful way while expanding their knowledge base and repertoire of skills.
Seeds of Empathy family
The chief criterion that identifies a Seeds of Empathy Family is that they have a baby who will be two-to-four months old at the beginning of the program. Families commit to visiting the centre once every three weeks during the program year. They should be reliable, so they don’t let the children down.
We seek families who live in the community, so that they reflect the cultural, racial and linguistic tone of the neighbourhood. This helps create a bond between the children in the centre and the Seeds of Empathy Family, which is reinforced when the children see the parent(s) and baby in the street and rush over to ask how ‘their baby’ is doing.
It’s important that the adult in the Seeds of Empathy Family be a parent. Mothers and/or fathers are equally welcome to participate, since we focus on the secure attachment relationship of the baby to the parent. Around the lavender blanket the children are able to watch a loving relationship between the parent and the baby, where the parent is attuned to the baby’s feelings, needs and intentions. Other adults (caregivers, grandparents, elders etc.) may not substitute for the parent but are welcome to observe a Family Visit.
Seeds of Empathy trains at least two staff who work with three-to-five-year-olds to become Literacy Coaches. Literacy Coaches read to the children during Literacy Circles and attend Family Visits. Literacy Coaches in Seeds of Empathy are powerful models of literacy for the children, and help them develop positive attitudes toward and competencies in early literacy. This role is supported by a curriculum manual with selected children’s literature, and lesson plans for each Literacy Circle.
The Family Guide coaches the children to observe, comment on, and draw conclusions about the baby’s development during a Family Visit. The Family Guide also gives the children a vocabulary for labelling the baby’s feelings. This vocabulary helps them to understand and talk about their own feelings and the feelings of others, thus giving pre-schoolers a basis for developing a “literacy of feelings”. This role is supported by a curriculum manual with lesson plans for each Family Visit.
The Administrator is the liaison between the Seeds of Empathy Program Manager and the centre. She or he is responsible for ensuring that the schedule of Literacy Circles and Family Visits is maintained and that the Literacy Coaches and Family Guides fulfill their roles. The Administrator attends the Family Visits and participates as a Literacy Coach when possible.